Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Review: All Grown Up by Jamie Attenberg

What does it mean to be a grown up? Is it having a job and your own apartment? Is it being in a stable relationship? Is it getting married and having kids? Or is is something less tangible like having a plan, liking yourself, being emotionally content? Do you get to measure it yourself or must you rely on others' judgment that you are, in fact, all grown up? As my children reach legal adulthood and venture out in the world, these are questions I ask more and more. Jami Attenberg's short novel, All Grown Up, also asks and attempts to answer just these questions.

Andrea is turning 40. That's certainly old enough to be considered "all grown up," but is she? She has a decent job that she hates, still mourning the loss of her dream of an art career. Her romantic relationships are awful, often one-offs, casual, and disengaged. She's emotionally unavailable to friends and family. She drinks too much, dabbles with drugs, is pretty insufferable and self-centered, and is definitely still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants from life. All she knows is that she doesn't want the life others have settled into and so she can be dismissive of other's choices and their definitions of being an adult. Andrea lives in an apartment with a good view, at least until another building goes up and blocks the view entirely, leaving her trapped in a formerly good apartment, much as she's trapped in a disappointing life.

This is a novel in vignettes, a character study of Andrea. It is non-chronological, jumping around from her teen years to the present to build a picture of why Andrea is the way that she is. What she is is deeply dysfunctional and only starting to figure things out at the end of the novel as she holds the tiny, cold hand of her terminally ill niece. There isn't much of a plot and the story is tenuously held together, perhaps because of the narrative structure. And while this is billed as a book about a woman who is single and childless by choice, it comes off rather as if these things happened to her out of apathy rather than active decision making on her part. In the end, maybe being a grown up is changing the things about life that make you unhappy, making choices that will lead you toward the existence you've been moaning about not having, and being emotionally forgiving and available to your loved one, friends, and family.  Has Andrea learned this?  Hard to say.  Long before the end of the novel and any potential, hinted at change, I was tired of Andrea and her one note life. It would have been better if I had been able to feel sorry for her. Instead, I just didn't care about her at all. This book seems to be pretty polarizing though so perhaps you'll be one of the people who loves it.

1 comment:

  1. A sign you’re a grown-up: you’re excited to spend Saturday night at The Container Store and you don’t even have anything you need to buy there—you’re just browsing!


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